“If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours; if they don’t they never were.”
Profound words from American writer Richard Bach and perhaps appropriate when it comes to Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea. The Spaniard is the only genuinely world class player on the books at Old Trafford and has won the Sir Matt Busby player of the year award three seasons in a row.
It shouldn’t escape anyone’s notice that De Gea is the first goalkeeper to have won the honour and rather fittingly they’ve all come after the retirement of you know who. Individually, it’s a fantastic achievement, but it’s also a damning indictment of how United has performed under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal.
Recently, rumours have surfaced that De Gea will seek to leave United if Van Gaal remains in charge. Conveniently enough news of a buyout clause has been reported too and that Real Madrid could activate it.
The ‘keeper has certainly come a long way from the donut stealing beanpole who could hardly fit into an oversized goalkeeper’s top. Those of a more possessive disposition may suggest that De Gea owes United after Ferguson and the club stuck by him during his jittery early days, but the simple counter-argument is that the Spaniard has quite spectacularly paid his dues.
There is little doubt that United would have finished lower than fifth had it not been for De Gea’s saves. Indeed, had the Spaniard been in goal against Swansea City at the start of the season the club could have been celebrating a finish in the top four. Sergio Romero’s error cost the Reds a point.
The club desperately needs De Gea to stay, but if there is any truth in the gossip, could United fans really begrudge De Gea a move?
In a season of disappointments the Old Trafford faithful can look back on the academy graduates slotting into the first team picture as one of the few plus points this season. While Marcus Rashford has rightly taken the plaudits for seizing his opportunity, it was Cameron Borthwick-Jackson who got the ball rolling for academy prospects this season. CBJ made his debut against West Brom in November and hasn’t looked back, playing with remarkable calm, especially away to Liverpool.
Nothing seems to faze the left-back. Just look at Borthwick-Jackson’s reaction, or lack thereof, when West Ham United fans pelted United’s coach on its way to the Boleyn Ground this month. Such a strange decision to deny the youngster a remarkable end to a first reason with a start in the FA Cup final and possibly a winner’s medal.
Even more concerning is United’s dithering over Borthwick-Jackson’s contract. Recent reports suggest that United’s Under-21 player of the year is on the verge of signing a new four-year deal. If that’s the case it’s not before time as his current deal expires this summer. If anything Borthwick-Jackson’s contractual situation demonstrates the need for a better football administrative structure at Old Trafford. To be so close to losing a genuinely promising talent isn’t just careless, it’s gross negligence.
Marvel at Marcus but wish Will well
Rashford has enjoyed a meteoric rise and could cap off his breakthrough season with an FA Cup winner’s medal and be part of England’s squad for this summer’s European Championship. His intelligence, calmness, finishing and all round play belies his 18-years. Lady luck has smiled upon the former Fletcher Moss Rangers player and he’s taking full advantage.
However, it could have been so different had Will Keane not suffered a groin injury against Shrewsbury in the FA Cup. The 23-year old has already battled back from knee ligament damage, which kept him out of the 2012/13 season. After a surprising recall from Preston North End at the turn of the year, the stage was set for Keane to show what he could do in the Premier League. Keane’s five-goal haul against Norwich City for the Under-21s included an exquisite chip that suggested promising things, but this latest setback may have put an end to Keane’s career at Old Trafford.
If fortune has been kind to Rashford, she’s completely turned her back on Keane.
A case for the defense?
Despite Van Gaal playing Daley Blind as a makeshift centre back and switching full backs like Sir Alex went through gum, United finished with the joint best defensive record in the Premier League. Tottenham Hotspur also conceding just 35 goals.
On the face of it that’s a fine achievement, but United still went on to lose 10 league games and draw nine, while scoring a woeful 49 goals. To put that figure into perspective only Stoke City had a more goal shy strike force in the top 10, netting just 41 times, while Sunderland, who finished 17th, found the target on 48 occasions.
Has Van Gaal built a solid base from the back or is this defensive record misleading? The goals against column would certainly be a lot worse had it not been the De Gea’s heroics, while the Dutchman’s conservatism sucked the life out of far too many matches.
Comeback victories such as the 4-2 win against Manchester City and the 3-2 defeat of Southampton are the exception rather than the rule under Van Gaal. Once his team is forced to open up, defensive solidity goes by the wayside.
There is a disconnect between the defensive structure that Van Gaal has instilled and the need to be more potent upfront. The current set-up doesn’t proffer a platform for the attacking players to build on. In fact quite the opposite has happened, with the forward players being stifled by Van Gaal’s tactical straight jacket. The numbers for United’s season are not flattering.
Michael Carrick’s trophy laden Old Trafford appears to be coming to a close. With no sign of a contract in sight it looks like that the 34-year-old will see out the remainder of his playing career somewhere else.
The question is who will replace him? James Ducker of the Telegraph suggested that Wayne Rooney could be the Geordie’s successor, with the United captain looking more at ease in a midfield role. The problem with that assumption is that Rooney is nowhere near as disciplined as Carrick. Rooney is prone to roaming, thus affecting the shape of the team. At the same time transitioning into midfield in the twilight of his career is no easy feat. If given plenty of time and space Rooney will influence games, but when up against higher class opponents who press the Scouser soon finds himself struggling. He simply hasn’t played enough in midfield to know the nuances of the role. It’s like asking Ashley Young to play as a central striker.
Additionally, the Scouser’s penchant for a Hollywood ball slows down United’s play, whereas Carrick is a far more discerning passer knowing when to play it simple and when to be quick and direct.
Another option within the first team ranks is Daley Blind. Like Carrick the Dutchman has no real pace, but the former Ajax man’s reading of game generally covers for his lack of speed. Playing this season as a centre back may actually be beneficial to United in the long run. If the club signs a specialist central defender, then Blind can be pushed into midfield and can dictate the game from a deep lying position.
Operating as a centre back Blind plays the ball forward more often than not. According to Squawka Blind has played 79.3 per cent of his passes forward this season compared with an average of 67.9 per cent last year. That’s 1,573 passes forward as a centre back, compared with 1,046 as a midfielder.
Blind has played 10 more games in the 2015/16 Premier League campaign compared with the previous season, which invariably skews the statistics, but the fact is he’s playing passes forward from deep lying positions and if he can replicate that in Carrick’s position then he could well be the Englishman’s natural successor.
Alternatively, United could just sign world class midfielder in the summer, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The higher ups at United, it was said, were horrified by how Moyes’ sacking was handled and vowed not to repeat that fiasco again.
Unfortunately, they’ve presided over a new avoidable melodrama in the handling of Van Gaal’s position. The Dutchman reportedly offered to resign earlier this season, but was talked out of it by executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
In a sense it’s a catch-22 situation because if Woodward publicly announced that Van Gaal would see out his contract it would have been taken as the “dreaded vote of confidence” to use a football cliché.
Yet, by staying silent, Woodward is allowing Jorge Mendes, José Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson and his acolytes to dictate the agenda in the media. Even Woodward’s famed off-the-record briefings appear to have dried up, leaving the Dutchman to fend for himself at press conferences.
The uncertainty once again exposes the lack of footballing expertise at Old Trafford. The only people with real power at the club are the Glazer brothers Avram, Joel and Bryan, together with Woodward and Richard Arnold. Each is a complete novice when it comes to football administration. The lesson? If the club wants to move forward it will need a proper sporting structure – it would have have dampened the speculation if not dealt with it in a coherent manner.
Depay r squared
Memphis’ debut season in England has been horribly disappointing, culminating in his omission from the FA Cup final squad. There probably needs to a “buyers beware” warning sign hanging on the door of the Eredivisie given the hit and miss nature of players brought from the Dutch top flight to the Premier League.
After an initial run in the first team Memphis has more often than not found himself warming the bench as Rashford and Jesse Lingard moved ahead in the pecking order.
The Dutchman’s attitude may be questionable, but at the same time he’s not the first attacking player to have had his wings clipped by Van Gaal. Indeed, after seemingly finding his feet against Midtjylland, Arsenal and Watford in February the Dutchman was taken out of the firing line by his manager and has never really recovered.
Maybe it’s just a case of Memphis getting used to English football as his best performances have come in European competition. He can also argue that he has been mismanaged by his countryman, but the hat wearing aficionado must understand that those excuses won’t wash in his second season at United. If he stays.
Much has been said about Van Gaal’s position and potential successor. Former United coach Rene Meulensteen cheekily suggested this week that Ronald Koeman could be the man follow the Iron Tulip and take charge at Old Trafford. Given the enmity between the pair how upset would Van Gaal be if the Koeman was indeed announced as his successor at Old Trafford?
Tony Martial came from France,
English press said he had no chance,
50 million down the drain,
As Tony Martial scores again.
He’s going to end up at Real Madrid, isn’t he?